Sunday, December 16, 2012

Loss and Grief and Clinging to Hope: Sandy Hook Elementary

"Grief is not a disorder, a disease or sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve." - Earl Grollman 

That is a lesson I learned much too late after I was forced to experience my first real sense of loss. I felt every emotion possible in my dealings with death. Not always all at once, but sometimes all at once, and often without any rhyme or reason. I experienced them in a jumble and they were aimed towards myself and all different kinds of people. I hurt because I loved my friend, and because I felt his absence. I was terribly aware that the story of our friendship would never have new chapters while on this earth. My hurt was stronger because I didn't know how to deal with my feelings. I hurt longer and harder because I tried to keep things in. I tried to be better all at once. I did not allow myself to grieve. If there is something those experiencing loss need to know it is what I know now about grief.

Yesterday, Friday, December 14, 2012, gave birth to one of the worst events in the history of our country. A senseless tragedy that stole the lives of 27 innocent people. In Newtown, Conneticut, 20-year-old man killed his mother in her home before forcing his way into Sandy Hook Elementary school and massacring 20 precious children and 6 brave educators who dedicated their lives to loving them through to gift of knowledge and nurturing. 

There are no right words to describe this occurrence. There is nothing easy about what happened. It is not something that is truly comprehensible and there will never be enough to offer hurting hearts.
I'm still trying to piece together the events. So are the police. I know why they have to do this, but I'm not too sure why I do. I wasn't involved. I'm hours away, continuing to live my life. I could live the rest of my life without feeling the true effects of this tragedy. Yes, I will look back and remember the next time something horrible happens. I will find the families and loved ones of those killed to be on my heart from time to time. I will pray for their healing. But I will not feel the same hollowness. I will not have those sleepless nights. I will laugh. And I will hug and physically love on those that I love once again.

I just know that what happened forced me to deal with and experience more emotions than I have all at once in the time since my personal loss. Except the emotions are more confusing this time around. Because it is so inexplicable. My fist major loss was terrible, but in a way it was easier than had it come about in some other way. My friend died in a car accident. Yes, it was sudden and unexpected, but no one was at fault. No one was drunk or texting on their phone or driving incapacitated in any other manner. The weather was bad and the roads were icy. The car skidded and spun into oncoming traffic and my friend who was in the passenger seat was hit. He didn't suffer. He died instantly. 

I never blamed God. I was never angry at him. I didn't charge him with a "why?". I knew that there was a reason. As hurt as I was, I knew that he wouldn't just take my friend away without having a plan. There were people saved at his funeral. People recommitted to living better and Godlier lives. I saw people striving to be a little bit kinder to help make up for the wonderful person that the world had lost. As much as it hurt and as terrible as it felt, I had these things to comfort me. 

But when children die, and when people trying to protect those children die, it gets a lot more confusing. It's maybe more devastating. It's not so easy to understand. It's hard to see the reasons and the beauty that will come from the ashes. Yes, they will come, but they will be a lot harder to appreciate.

This wasn't an accident. This was not the loss of one, albeit a beautiful, kind, funny, inspirational, amazing and life changing, person. This was loss of 6 brave individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty and of 20 beautiful babies who had not even truly begun to live. They were learning new things. They were happy and excited to go to school. They were curious and beautiful and innocent - unmarred by the evils of this world. And someone killed them on purpose. 

This made me so angry. I don't hate much, but I hate experiencing those kinds of bad feelings. It hurts me to feel that kind of anger. I feel the loss of my humanity in that anger. These are the moments that threaten to rob me of my compassion, and sometimes do, even if only for a short while.

With the anger came the tears. I spent a lot of the day crying. I couldn't put on my eye make-up before work because I kept ruining it. My heart was heavy with hurt. Sometimes being an emotional, empathetic person has some really terrible downsides. As more and more details came in, I became more and more of a mess. My mind was flooded with thoughts.

I thought of the way that the parents were reunited with their kids. The absolute terror of having to search for your children with your stomach all tied up in knots and incessant and pleading prayers on your lips. Just hoping that you'll find their eyes in the crowd or hear their voice calling out.

I thought of all those people waiting. Having to watch as other parents felt the relief of seeing their children and hoping that you would be able to feel the same way.

I thought of the parents who were forced to face the realization that their babies were never coming back to them alive to hear, see, or hold, but could not be reunited with their precious little bodies right away because children are much harder to identify and there is red tape that must be dealt with. 

I thought of Christmas presents already at home that will never know their intended owners. Of families who will always remember Christmastime with this tragedy, for whom the holidays may never be the same.

I thought of the parents who were so happy to be reunited with their children only to feel the guilt that comes with their happiness. The guilt that they were among the lucky ones, while the parent standing beside them may not be.

I thought of all those precious and innocent children who survived who will never play with some of their friends again. Who will never see some of their siblings again on this earth outside of a coffin, if even that. Of babies who had to see people they passed in the hallways everyday lying lifeless on the ground.

I thought of the innocent children who will experience survivor's guilt, and live with the question of why they are alive when others are not in the back of their minds. 

I thought of the sweet, sweet babies and all the things they will never know and what their lives could have been if not cut short.

I thought of the educators who so selflessly gave their lives for their students. Who went above and beyond what is expected of them.

I thought of the spouses and families and friends of those educators, who would never have thought their loved ones' job to be dangerous. Who thought today would be like any other.
And when I thought I had considered every thought, the different prayer requests that people shared opened my eyes to other types of hurt. 

Someone asked prayer for the first responders. I don't know what I would do if I had to walk into an event so terrible as a massacre of 6 and 7 year olds. 

I began to think of the police and those who would have to process the crime scene. Who were forced to face and report every detail of this tragedy.

I felt for the lone funeral home in Newtown, Connecticut that is so overwhelmed with bodies that they must seek help from outside sources.

I felt for the community that was shaken by what had happened. Who were robbed of their feelings of peace and safety.

There are people wondering why God would allow this. These are people who just don't understand. I want so much for them to understand. They are people who are hurting, and I wish them faith. And for the hurt in their hearts to be removed so that they may understand. Or for them to understand that having faith will help them remove the hurt.   

Sometimes I look at things like this and think that we must be living in end times. Watch the news. Devastating things happen every single day. I almost want to believe truly that we are in the end days because there is too much hurt in this world for me to be able to imagine how it could get much worse. And no, that is not a challenge. 

I've had a lot of thoughts about what happened. In the days to come, I will have more. I worry that when I go back to school on Monday some of my kids will bring these events up. I don't know what I will tell them if they do, but I pray for the right words. That's one of the hardest things in this situation, and I've had this conversation about words before. In this type of tragic circumstance, I would urge people to remember that it is not always what we say, but what we do that matters. Sometimes just being there is enough. But there is no real "enough" for something like this, and I know that there will be people searching for words. 

Watching the news, a Dr. Keith Ablow said something that really got to me. Something that I think would be really close to "the right thing" for those going through this:

"I cannot fathom the depth of your grief. I give you credit for your courage. I think that somewhere out of your incredible wound could come extraordinary sensitivity, such that you would be an incredible gift to other people in life. And yet, I hesitate to even ask that of you knowing now how much you're suffering, and yet I know that that's possible for you. But I don't pretend to know everything you're feeling and I invite you to tell me. Please tell me. Because silence is the enemy of healing here."

I don't know what I would say to those closely experiencing this tragedy. What my words would be to a hurting heart. I believe that if faced with that situation my words would come to me through God as they so often do when I must find something to say.

As much as the pain in my heart was and is from the losses I have experienced, I don't dare pretend to believe that it could truly be compared to what these individuals will have to live with for the rest of their lives. Parents should never bury their children. Children's lives should never be stolen. The world should never have to lose well-meaning hearts and individuals who live their lives giving, loving, and nurturing.

But I know that in the face of my loss and heartache I didn't let myself grieve, and that was a terrible mistake. It prolonged my hurt. It broke me more to try and keep it in. I was never afraid of being weak, but I was afraid of not being strong. I was afraid of being someone that people didn't know me to be; of not being someone others needed me to be. But there is something so incredibly brave about expressing and experiencing your grief. There is a healing to it. "Silence is the enemy of healing." It won't be easy. It's gonna hurt like hell. You'll have days you think you're better and then reality will hit you. Hard. In the stomach. It will knock the breath out of you and you will be down on your knees. You'll stay there and you won't know if you'll ever get up. But you will. Somehow you will. 

Remember that there is a time for everything under the sun. There is "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." These do not come with a certain allotment of time, and there is no promise about when they will come. But if you open yourself up to love and peace, you will find it. There is hope. Even without truly knowing such a devastating pain, I know that there is hope because I have faith in a loving God who is reaching his arms out to heal the hurting hearts.

I wish those affected by this senseless tragedy so many things. Understanding. Healing. Happiness. Laughter. And above all, never-ending faith, love, peace, and hope.

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